Imagine a warehouse, deep down a sneaky little alleyway. Music, bouncing off the walls as an artist lines them with freshly sprayed graffiti. A skater rides a ramp in the corner while a band takes the stage, all next to pop up shops and booze-filled bathtubs. Now, imagine this heavenly warehouse conveniently located in our very own capital.
In a few weeks we’ll have to imagine no more, as Canberra sees the launch of THE CHOP SHOP, a Braddon-based warehouse dedicated to music, skating, art, fashion and the brilliant community within Canberra that makes it all happen. The brains (and very much, the hearts) behind the initiative are Sancho Murphy, of skate/art/apparel store, Sancho’s Dirty Laundry and Pat Rose of clothing label, Coy. I was lucky enough to catch up with both of them in Rose’s graffiti filled home, to get a sense of, not only the caliber of art that’s going to be adorning The Chop Shop’s walls, but how the idea came to be and how it’s actually going to be operationalised in the coming weeks.
The two have known each other for about a year and in that time have found themselves collaborating in more ways than one. As Murphy recalls, “Pat approached me one day in my shop about collaborating and opening up a venue which could support live art, pop up galleries and live music.” Rose adds, “In the same way she’s friends with a lot of street artists, I’m friends with a lot of music artists. We found that there are places in Canberra that do cater to live music but a lot of the time there’s largely personal gain to be had and it’s less about the artists and more about how much money they can make.”
The ultimate difference with The Chop Shop is that it’s been created and developed by people who understand the arts world. They get what it’s like to work in an area that you’re passionate about and not always get recognised or even paid for what you do. Murphy puts this quite well – “I feel that because we’re both artists and designers, we know people within that community, but we also know how they should be treated.” A message echoed by Rose, “We both understand what it’s like to do the hard yards and not get paid, or acknowledged.”
Murphy also explains the fact that for most artists it’s a constant struggle to have your art seen. “From a gallery point of view, galleries charge rent, then take thirty percent commission,” she says. “As an artist that means every sale made during an exhibition goes straight towards these costs. It’d be cool to have a venue where you don’t have to fill out a lengthy proposal in order to be considered for an exhibition. In that way, this initiative’s for artists, by artists. That’s where we’re taking it.”
The concept is about creating an interactive space for people to gather and experience the art, music and culture that Canberra is quietly known for. But it’s also about creating an environment for talent to grow and thrive. Collaboration in Canberra has been happening for a while, from musicians meeting at gigs, to graffiti artists meeting and painting together, as recently as Rose’s Coy launch party. Murphy cites the fact that there’s so much talent dispersed around Canberra, but no real place that brings this passion together. “I found with people that used to come into my shop, there are these little cliques but they all don’t know each other. I feel that if they all just had a space where they could meet, they’d realize they had a common interest and the scene would just gain momentum and grow.”
So how did they manage to lock down the perfect warehouse for this to happen, right in the middle of beautiful Braddon? As Murphy explains, “I approached Nick at the [Lonsdale Street] Traders. The whole warehouse is scheduled to be demolished in January, so I said ‘before it gets demolished and all the shops are vacant, can I throw an arts festival in there?’ Then somewhere along the track, the mechanics next door moved out early because that’s scheduled for demolition too. Nick was like, ‘what about this warehouse, would you be interested in taking it on?’ and I was like, ‘hells yeah, this is perfect.’”
As noted by the demolition happening early in the new year, the entire Chop Shop warehouse initiative is temporary. But that’s the beauty of it. The guys are hoping to run events every Friday and Saturday from the end of July until new years, with the option of kicking on, based on the demolition, but much more so, based on whether the idea is still viable. As Murphy puts it, “We’re rolling the dice on this – it’s a new experience for us both. Rose adds, “At the end of it, if we’re like ‘hey, this worked, let’s keep doing it’, we’ll keep doing it. But then again, it might end in us saying, ‘Wow, we just had to declare bankruptcy.’” So how much money are they putting into this? “Most…to all of it,” he says. “It’s a good, like, since-I-was-17-years-old savings sunk into here.”
Rose and Murphy are putting pretty much everything they have into this, but they’ve also been fortunate enough to get a lot of help along the way. From materials donated, to money invested and of course, the immense amount of time, effort and skills offered by their many talented friends. It’s hard to imagine how much would need to build an idea like this – liquor licensing, insurance, sound set ups and physically fitting the place out. And the beauty is that whatever money is made (if/when entry is charged for events, or made from alcohol sales – as cheap as booze is going to be), the money’s going straight back into The Chop Shop and hopefully, eventually to the artists that are involved.
Artists won’t be charged to display their work and they won’t be paying commission on items they sell. This is obviously a fantastic gesture, but as you can imagine, it makes obtaining investment that much harder. Rose explains the usual conversation with investors. “They’re like ‘what are you charging the artists? Nothing. Can you move on that?’…No.” It echoes the fact that the initiative is genuinely aimed at growing the independent arts scene in Canberra and giving passion for the arts a platform to be seen and heard.
The soft launch is a good example of this, with wordsmith Omar Musa launching his novel, accompanied by a select few musicians laying down some sweet tunes. The actual launch party in August will feature artists live-spraying the warehouse walls, a skate-off happening on the freshly built ramp and music from Wallflower, Ventures and Canberra kings, Safia (to name a few). The events from August until the new-year will follow suit in terms of quality acts and input from various areas of the arts world.
In a place like Canberra with an arts scene that’s still young and often hidden; ideas like this, built on passion, hard work and genuine talent are rare. Props to the people behind it and here’s to four months of beautiful art, music and collaboration in our lovely little Capital – a place where passion clearly lives.
Tickets for the soft launch on Friday July 25 are handled through Electric Shadows Bookshop and tickets for the launch party on Saturday August 9 can be purchased through The Chop Shop Kickstarter campaign. For more info or to get involved check out www.chopshopcanberra.com